BRUSSELS (AP) — A series of school arsons in Belgium believed to be connected to a controversial school program in some parts of the country is prompting authorities to strengthen their police response.
Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden on Friday called for a halt to the attacks in the French-speaking Wallonia region hours after another school was set on fire, the sixth in the Charleroi area since the start of the week.
“We don’t touch our schools,” the minister wrote on the X social network, formerly known as Twitter. “Arson attacks in Brussels and Wallonia must stop. I have therefore asked the federal police to provide support to local areas to avoid any escalation.”
Signs protesting the so-called Evras project were discovered on some of the schools.
The Evras program is described as a tool designed to help children and teenagers develop their relational and sexual lives. This school year, some 100,000 pupils in the Wallonia-Brussels federation ages 11-12 and 15-16 will have to attend two sessions, for a total of four hours of training.
The program had been around and available all age groups for years but was not compulsory before this school year.
In addition to the arsons, protests gathering a few hundred people have also been organized in Brussels. Several Islamic groups have also condemned the program in a joint statement over fears it will favor the “hypersexualization" of children while rumors about the nature of Evras spread on the Internet.
“I would like to call on everyone to calm down and try once again to cut through the lies circulating about the Evras system," the education minister in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, Caroline Desir, said on Friday. “No, it does not prepare a pedophile system. No, it doesn’t plan to make children want to change gender. No, it doesn’t plan to teach children how to engage in sexual activities.”
Local media quoting the Charleroi prosecutor's office said the investigation has not established a link between the six arsons so far.
Charleroi mayor Paul Magnette compared the arsons to a "form of terrorism.”
“These are arson attacks on schools, which are sacred places,” he told Sudinfo media. “They are places where children learn respect and tolerance.”
According to local media, two other schools in the city of Liege have also been vandalized.